Why Seniors May Become Abusive
First, it is important to understand why aggressive or abusive behavior occurs. In some cases, you may be caring for a senior who has always been a little rough around the edges. As he or she gets older and mental and physical health declines, it may be easy for the senior to slip into anger over a perceived loss of independence, control, and ability.
At other times, abusive behavior can spring from a physical or mental condition, such as pain, hallucinations, medication side effects, or dementia. Such conditions may cause a person who has never exhibited violent tendencies to become aggressive.
AARP's "When Caregivers are Abused" notes that abuse can stem from denial on the part of a senior when he or she is confronted with failing health. Aggression can also come from depression on the part of your loved one. Decreased inhibition may also be a factor, especially for those in early stages of frontotemporal dementia and in later stages of Alzheimer's.
What Caregivers Can Do When Abuse Occurs
Understanding the root cause of the abuse may help you as a caregiver to deal with it more effectively. In the majority of cases, the abuse is not necessarily deliberate. The abuser may not even be fully aware that his or her behavior is inappropriate and hurtful.
The Alzheimer's Society provides these helpful tips to handling abuse by a dementia patient:
- Control your own reaction by stepping back, taking a deep breath, and focusing on what may be causing the dementia patient to act aggressively.
- Try not to show fear, anger, or agitation yourself, as this may cause the situation to escalate.
- Do not shout or initiate physical contact of any sort, since this may be interpreted as a threat by an already agitated person.
- Maintain eye contact and speak calmly.
- Focus on the dementia patient, rather than on the behavior. Trying to understand what triggers an aggressive response may help you avoid the situation in the future.
- If you are a professional caregiver, seek the help and support of your home health agency. In some cases, it may be advisable for an agency to assign a different caregiver to a dementia patient if abuse continues.
- If you are a family caregiver, consider getting help with your senior through a home health agency. Professional caregivers are trained to handle a variety of aggressive behaviors competently.
The Alzheimer's Society gives this further advice: "To reduce or prevent aggressive behavior, carers will need to look at the person as an individual and work out why they are behaving in a certain way. It is important to see what is happening from the perspective of the person with dementia and to identify the reason for the behavior. The person with dementia is probably trying to communicate something and the challenge is to find out what it is and why. There is no 'one size fits all' solution, and carers will need to tailor their approach to each situation."
Choosing the Healthy Approach for Everyone Involved
As mental and physical health declines, your loved one or client may begin to exhibit aggressive behavior that is both heartbreaking and difficult to handle. The best course in such cases is to try to understand and address the issues that trigger aggressive behaviors if possible.
If you need help to deal with an abusive senior, please contact us. We stand ready to assist you in making the home a safe, comfortable, non-threatening environment for senior care.